Why John Lennon Wrote ‘Dear Prudence’ for Mia Farrow’s Sister

The Beatles’ 1968 trip to India marked a clear dividing line for the group. When they arrived back in England, they would begin The White Album and begin disintegrating as a band. John Lennon would tell his bandmates he was quitting the following year.

But by early ’68, the Beatles still had a lot left in the tank. First up was The White Album, which was the group’s longest record by far. Though Paul McCartney worked on his own for several tracks and Ringo quit the band for weeks during the sessions, it stands as a masterpiece.

Most of the material for that record came from songs they wrote in India. During the weeks they were there studying with the Maharishi, John and Paul wrote several White Album tracks in between meditation sessions and hanging out with Donovan and the Beach Boys’ Mike Love (among others).

Also in attendance were Mia Farrow and her younger sister Prudence. While everyone visiting the ashram was serious about meditation, Prudence Farrow took it to another level. John ended up writing “Dear Prudence” about her intense commitment to her studies.

Prudence Farrow had been meditating with an intensity that alarmed The Beatles.

Prudence Farrow, the sister of Mia Farrow, receives yoga training from the Swami Satchidananda in November 1967. Farrow was the inspiration for the Beatles song ‘Dear Prudence’. | Harry Benson/Daily Express/Getty Images

In early ’68, Prudence Farrow was just 19 years old, but she’d already been studying yoga and meditation for a few years. She described getting into the course with the Maharishi as “a dream come true” for her.

“Being on that course was more important to me than anything in the world,” she later said about her experience in India. “I was very focused on getting in as much meditation as possible, so that I could gain enough experience to teach it myself.”

She also wrote about “sticking out” by heading straight back to her room after meals so she could get more meditation in. While John and the others would be chatting and strumming guitars (or sitars, as it were), Farrow got more and more engrossed in her studies.

In All We Are Saying (John’s 1980 Playboy interviews), John described Farrow as “slightly barmy” after “meditating too long.” Since she was living lived in the same house, they became alarmed because they never saw her. So John wrote a song asking her to “come out and play.”

The Maharishi had a full-time nurse looking after Farrow from that point on.

The Beatles and friends sit at an ashram in Rishikesh, India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, March 1968. The group includes Ringo Starr, Jane Asher, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pattie Boyd, John Lennon (far right), and Prudence Farrow (far left). | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John gave his take on the events in 1980. “[Prudence] had been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anybody else,” he recalled. “That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp — who was going to get cosmic first.”

From other reports, it sounds like John and the others had good reason to be concerned. Paul Horn, a flute player who was there with the group, described (via Beatles Books) Farrow as “ashen-white” and unable “to recognize her own brother, who was on the course with her.”

Horn said that prompted the Maharishi to get Farrow a full-time nurse. John sounded grateful it happened in India rather than America or the UK. “If she’d been in the West, they would have put her away,” he said.

Eventually, Farrow found herself and joined the group for discussions. Since then, she’s been teaching meditation, got her PhD from the University of California, and accomplished several other milestones. And before leaving India, she learned John had written a song about her.

After hearing The White Album, she didn’t need anyone to tell her which track it was.

Also see: The Beatles Girl Who Really ‘Came in Through the Bathroom Window’